Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Block Dude for Writers

I have never written so much consistently every day in my life than right now.

Yes, I am participating in NaNoWriMo this year. It is my first time and so although I have heard both horror stories and amazing recounts, I wasn't sure where I would fit, other than finishing.

It is a challenge having to write every day, especially as a student. If you miss a day, that's over 3.3K you have to write the next day, and the stress gets worse with every subsequent missed day.

But, my problem hasn't been meeting word count. In fact, I'm a couple hundreds words ahead, which is somewhat surprising.

My story started off with a great premise, and it still is great. The story is telling for many writers, although because it is fiction, I have to include some things that reality doesn't necessarily. But, since when is reality expected? Things happen for no reason all of the time. So, to that degree, my story is more real than I would like at times.

But, the writer's block. I never really hit that in my prose, but in making the story more interesting in some avenues, it put me in a strange position. I think most of my 27K words are of quality, especially for the NaNo quickness.

You have to keep writing, and you don't want to churn out crap. I try my best to make sure that I keep up the word count and write the highest quality that I can. Of course, that's not always possible. But, the most I'm trying to make is that sometimes you're in a part of the story that is just difficult to write. You make some big change, and the character(s) are confused with where to go or how to think.

Therefore, NaNoWriMo is both a blessing and a curse for writers. There is the swiftness of the craft, but if you want to write consistent quality and take time to plan out the story (which I hardly do), then NaNo may not be for you. Fortunately, I tend to write quality anyway.

End of Arrogant Rant.

-jheld out

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Be Veerrry Afraid

Showing your work to others, whether on a friendly basis, or of one much more formal, is always a good idea. If you are writing, most likely it is more for just your eyes.

You've got that dream, right? The dream of millions of people reading you work. Well, if you don't let anyone read it to give you their opinion and help you better yourself as a writer, then how will your dream ever have the chance to come true?

Not everyone is a good critic or review. Beware that many, if not most, of the people who will read your story or poem just don't know how to look at a piece. But, many do, and those are the people that will form writing groups with you or spend hours on online communities. So, just because the fear of rejection lies within you doesn't mean they won't love it.

People usually like to find strengths within a piece to rave about--the same goes for me. Find one good thing and one bad thing, at the very least. That's the beginning of a thorough review.

So, if the chills go down your back this Halloween, just remember that not showing your work is much worse than waiting for feedback. Grow some courage and march on.

Happy Halloween!

-jheld out

Sunday, October 3, 2010

An Ever Rising Plateau of Skill

If you’re an aspiring writer/author, then there will never be a time when you will stop improving your craft. How can that be? Shouldn’t be a limit, like the sky?

The short answer is: yes, there is a limit. But, only for those who cannot see above what they have written. That doesn’t that if you get published and look back on your work and are disgusted by it that it’s bad. Though that could certainly be the case, usually you’re already a fantastic writer. This just means that you can do even better than before. And you should.

So, when does this magically uplifting moment occur? When does Nirvana enter and you come to peace with your work, stop treating it like an untouchable, perfect baby? This can happen in many different ways.

For me, it happens when I’ve simply written something new. My mind will be craving a new piece, and so it writes, and it’s better. Then I feel like I had just wasted a year of my life because I can spot so many flaws.

Then there are times when you read/review other’s works. If those pieces are written well, or your piece has a thorough review, you’ll start seeing it then. That’s usually what happens with me. Take those feelings to heart and let the pen flow once again. Remember that changing one line in that page will probably not change the flow of the story (in most cases), and therefore all you’re really doing is improving that scene. Improvement is what you’re trying to do, so why fight it? Trust me, you’ll be happier for it.

Back to reviewing and getting reviews. Join a writing group. Having that group atmosphere and work ethic is amazing. I’ve been part of such a group since January and I’m so glad that I joined. It’s the only official writing group on campus, we meet weekly, J-WOC. If you get the reference, then you’ll know where I go to school! And then you should join!

Being with others, regardless of if they write poetry, shorts, non-fiction, or epic novels, is a wonderful experience. You will not always get as great of feedback as you’d like, but trust me, it’s better than nothing. Opening up and letting others read your work is key, as well as learning how to critique others. Those skills of critiquing will help you when you sit looking at your manuscript at 3 am and think, “I can make this better.” It’s tough, but I have faith that you can do it.

-jheld out

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Publishing, Online Communities, and Competitions

The Internet is a wonderful tool in most of it’s plethora of applications. For the writer, it has forums and other online communities, but now it goes much further than that.

Online Publishing, Flash Fiction, and the occasional professional-level review are all possible here in the Cloud.

FictionPress is one such site, though I would caution any who create an account and spend time using it. An advantage of the site is how many users there are. There is always something new to read, and generally always something crawling along the web and finding something to read. On the flip side, there are too many pieces, and not enough talented authors. Reviews are generally scant and not worth a lot. While you can establish relationships with other users through the forums and community-level groups, and can grow through some relatively great feedback, it is difficult to maintain as the consistency is just not there. That and you have to be careful about what you put up there. You cannot delete your account, though you can remove your pieces, at least on the front-end. Don’t be too scared, but definitely be cautious. Copy & Pasting is still a viable resource for talentless crapholes. I no longer have anything on there due to the above constraints and cautions. I did, however, get some really good feedback and become a better writer for the two months that I spent on there.

Webook is another site, one in which I currently am very interested in. In many ways it is similar to FictionPress, but I believe it is on an entirely different level, overall. For one, the users generally write better, but the site actually has funding and is updated with user input, etc. You can actually contact them, unlike FictionPress. Also, there is P2F aka “PageToFame” which is a competition with three rounds (hopefully you’ll make it all the way!) that serves as a community-picked writing competition to get you to the bucket where participating literary-agents look. If you make it to round 3 then you have a really good chance of getting the attention of an agent. There is a fee, $4 summer special for novels, normally $10. There are also poetry and shorts, though I’m not sure what the associated fees are. Either way, if you are confident that you have something special on your hands and you think it can stand up to some pretty high standards of writing (again, community-picked at first, which means a spectrum of talented and not-so-talented reviewers… (at least for the first round or so)), then I say go ahead, send your fee and copy your submission in. Each round takes time, and rates are 1-5, 5 being the best. You don’t want under a 4, but a 3 isn’t bad, though it does actually hurt. I got a coupon for a free submission and I put The Defender up (round 1 is a one-page submission, 2 is 5 pages,and 3 is 50 pages). Round 1 has taught me a lot about my writing and I wish I’d waited a bit to put The Defender up because my rates have not been as high as I’d expected. Whoops.

There are many other sites,, which I know almost nothing about. But you may find your muse there!


Good luck!

-jheld out.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Non-standard Woes of Writing

In the world today, In times like these, Billy woke up from a dream while sitting in class, Bridgette was not very popular and wished the cute girl/guy would notice her. If you haven't noticed yet, these are cliches. Sure, they aren't very good, and that's because I find it difficult to think of some off the top of my head. Off the top of my head is an over-used phrase. You should also try to steer clear of those, too. Maybe you should try to avoid using over-used phrases and cliches. It makes you seem like a less credible writer who isn't able milk the utter of creativity on their own. Sure, get help with writing, but the words on the page have to be yours.

Cliches, plagariasm, unbalanced amounts of dialogue, exposition, and description, a terrible grasp of grammar and syntax, as well as dozens of other issues, large and small, sap the energy and dynamic tension that a great story can have.

There are a plethora of Dos and Don'ts in Writing. There are books written on them, and there will be more, too. Why are there so many and why am I adding another to the list? Because as a writer who is learning his trade at blacksmithing his way to publishing, one mallet against metal at a time, writers have to look after one another, even if they are competing within the same market. Also, there are some terrible stories published every year, and that's because the authors did at least one major thing correctly: owned their audience.

Oh, but jheld, you might ask, how can I "own my audience"?
One might also ask, "Who is my audience?" I sure hope you're not asking yourself that right now.

Owning your audience might sound terrifyingly impossible. Basically, to find your audience, you must know what your story is about and who the characters are. And you'll say "oh that's easy!" And then you become confused because you still can't seem to garner the steam. You'll wonder how your favorite authors did it. Yes, even Stephanie Meyers did it.

(Back after vomiting.)

Veteran readers don't like to be put down or made to feel stupid. This includes writing at a level where you tell your reader what to think, instead of letting them think for themselves. This includes not telling the whole story in the first chapter. What is your story if you don't let it grow? Thus, leave some things to mystery. Readers like mystery. Mystery means many things, but what it really means is that you don't give away all your ideas and plot twists in page one. Let the reader try and figure it out on their own, shooting out some tips and foreshadowing here and there from your proverbial SOS gun (can't remember the official term, but you should get the fireworks reference).

For young adult readers, though it may be easier to find the popularity, remember that many of them may only read mainstream works. Thus, I find that you should still watch over-used characters, themes, and stories. You might get some great start, and it's fantastic if you do become published, but it might not last very long. But, publishers do not want to publish something too close to a previously published story. Always be careful. Know your story and those already in existence.

Also, don't make vague references to non-mainstream culture. Yet, if you are writing for a niche market, then go ahead and be consistent and let it fly! But, if you are writing mainstream, you may be referring to characters in some story, so cut out the names, and make the metaphor, or whichever rhetoric device, more strong and easy to notice. Get rid of the name and you include a much broader audience. Again, completely up to you. Niche markets are hard to own, too, but you are a bigger fish in a smaller pond.

Don't write tomes just for the sake of Harry Potter-esque epicness. If your style and story are deep enough, then you will find your idea branching out a lot. Only write words if they further the story. Only write dialogue that furthers the story. Only write exposition (some through dialogue) if it furthers the story. Otherwise, why do you need it? Too many stories out there are guilty of fun little scenes writers wanted to keep, but then frustrate the reader. If you want to keep a following, then use word economy. That is, shorten things when you can. If you can't say the same thing with the same meaning in less words or better words, then don't. But, that has a flip side: if you have to elaborate on something because it will help the story, then go ahead! Whatever makes the story better :)

There are many other things to discuss about the art of story writing. I don't know all of them, and I do know more than what I've written here. There are some of the important things to remember while in the craft. I hope this helps.

jheld out.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Musically Inclined

When I write, given an estimated guess, I listen to music 70% of the time. Hear I would like to give my thoughts on the advantages and disadvantages of listening to music while writing a story or poetry. Although I do not write poetry, it is a form of writing, so it is under the umbrella.

Why would someone want to listen to music while in Prose-Mode? All of the great writers in the past didn't have CD's or iPods or Zunes or Records. Sure, some of them probably positioned themselves near instruments, bands or orchestras, but the music listening has only been in the last century, if that. It is more likely that writers used to sit in solitary abandon, in silence, swiftly shooting their pen or pencil along the page. Then again, there are coffee shops and bookstores, and Lord knows that those places are not always as quiet as a library.

I think it had something to do with the message  of the songs and how the music flows, from start to finish, with all of the riffs and climaxes. Those musical concepts and movements inspire the mind, give chills down the back, and make you want to do something. Thus, it no longer seems so terrible a thought for someone to write their epic love story or science-fiction buster to this haunting, gratifying sound.

I listen to Foo Fighters, Beatles, Paul McCartney, Elton John, John Lennon, and any number of other artists. Oh yeah, Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty. That's golden, as well as The Only Living Boy in New York by Simon & Garfunkel.

But, it's not always the best thing to listen to music. Sometimes the music will push us to write something else or in some other style than we normally would, and it could be a knock on the story. Sometimes silence really is golden and your mind can come up with so many ways to make the story come alive.

Thus, I haven't really come to any conclusion of whether or not it is a good idea to listen to music, but then again, it was never my place to decide that. Go write and prosper!

Good Day Sunshine!

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Proverbial Stack

Mainly due to my experience as a Computer Science major while writing, I have come upon the notion of The Stack.

The Stack is a LIFO structure. Last-in, First-out. Think of a stack of plates. The first plate goes onto the counter (or whatever), and the last plate is at the top. Thus LIFO.

Although there is not really any wrong way to approach the creation of a story, without a proper understanding of plot and story elements as well as good prose, the opportunity to create a masterpiece gets flattened by the hammer of publishers (if that is what you are looking for). Basically, if you want the character to develop well, and events to follow a logical, well-received structure, the story may seem dry, calculated, or just terrible without a fluid, near-seamless orientation of the story elements.

In writing my first major story, Hero's Genesis, part of The Heritage Series, I have run into so many problems, much like a crash-test dummy in an experimental car in the midst of the planning and performance stages. My best friend had only read the first 50 pages of that draft, and when he read more than that in draft 3, his comments were unsurprising, but solid nonetheless.

By this time, about a month or so ago, I had already put Hero's Genesis on hiatus and began working on other pieces. I never thought that I would write other things while working on my first story, thought I could keep going, improving, editing and revising, until I would submit my manuscript to agents and publishers. Yet, it didn't happen that way, and that's because my mind subconsciously wanted me to try something new, and so I did. I was bogged down by, what I thought were concrete plot arcs and story lines, and so that limited how well my craft could improve. The writing, as my best friend had told me, as well as "friends" on, that I have a polished writing, that it flows and it's good. However, the word calculated was brought up, meaning that although the writing was better, the original plot (draft 3 took a very different approach to beginning the story) caught his attention and made him invest his emotions much more than draft 3.

The problem that I had, and still do sometimes, is making an outline for a story way before I have the story even partially written. This means that I think that I already know my characters, and how the story will develop. I had certainly planned out Draft 1, but it was an interesting plot, and it was possibly the way I approached the scenes that made it as good as it was for a beginner. By the time I had written part of Draft 3, though things had changed, it was extremely calculated, and the personalities didn't jump out as much because I was so focused on allowing the story to flow and move.

The two most recent stories, one of which I am currently working on as my main project, have started no where similar to The Heritage Series. In fact, it has started much like what I have written for book 2 of that series--where I just began writing and even if I had an outline, I wouldn't necessarily stick to it, letting the story grow and the character make his own decisions.

Who Says? began with me knowing nothing of the story, other than it being a Detective/Mystery novel. And because of that, I have created some intense and amazing characters, as well as a potentially complicated, yet interesting plot. For reasons I won't list, I have put this story on hold, but I am very much excited to work on it more.

The Defender, what I am working on now, I almost scrapped within the first half-page. The opening, a fight in the street (alleyway) in Minneapolis, drew me in and the story grew so fast and my mind, like it had with Who Says? branched out and gave me things to work with without me having to plan it all out and make it appear stale.

The morals of this blog post are that extremes in writing are hardly ever good things and that the juggling, storing, and interpolation of plot elements will provide you almost infinite possibilities to create a fantastic story. You don't want to create an entire outline for a story if you are new to creative writing, but you also don't want to know absolutely nothing and write and write without getting anywhere and making an incoherent plot. If you start out with interesting characters, even if you don't know them quite yet, and you know the kind of story you want to write (e.g. action, adventure, romance, fantasy, western), then let your mind do the catching up with you as you go. Lately, that seems to be the best route for me because I still see my story as ever changing, growing and getting better and deeper with each chapter. Outlines are fine and dandy, but they aren't meant to grow with you, so you shouldn't make them too strict or tight. Remember, you need breathing room in writing, just like you do with leather pants.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Finding the Time

Time. It's one of the most challenging pieces needed to weave a fascinating story. Even though all one has to do is type or scribble or memorize a certain line or bit of dialogue, Time is a necessity that every writer must have.

Without Time, a story will never have be able to spread its wings and soar above the tallest of buildings, but run over hot coals like a toddler whom is still learning to stand up on their own two feet.

All writers need the Time to sit down and plan the story out, even if just a little, and for working adults this may be nearly impossible with a potential family, or just going out with friends or seeing a movie and paying bills. It's stressful to think that the Time one could be writing and expressing oneself and thinking of grand ideas could come to bite one in the ass, yes the ass, when one should be doing more important and critical things. However, if a story is brewing in one's head, and boggling on the mind, that itself is very important.

So, the moral of the story is, if you have a story, spend the Time to write it down because you might end up regretting it later!

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Must Read Series for any Fantasy Reader

Lately, with the backlash and reflection on the Twilight Series, the depressing extension of The Inheritance Cycle, and the void left by The Harry Potter Series, it has become difficult to find some truly good, dare I say, breathtaking, series that I can enjoy reading.

The Demonata Series, by Darren Shan (Cirque Du Freak, among others) is one of those great series.

It is a ten book series focusing mainly on three characters that, for better or for worse (excuse the cliche), are the saviors of humanity.

Now, I'm not going to spoil the books because that would be rude.

If you are looking for epic battles, intense relationships and morally grey-subject matter, then this series is for you!

The Demonata Series, by Darren Shan!

First book is "Lord Loss."